One thing you will not hear on tonight’s PBS salute to George Carlin is the seven dirty words you can’t say on television. Which is just fine, according to comic’s comic and Law & Order: SVU star Richard Belzer, who spoke with critics about George Carlin: The Mark Twain Prize last month at the TCA press tour:
I think that I learned a long time ago that if you’re in a church, you know, you don’t do certain things. If you’re in someones home, you don’t do certain things. If the philosophy of the network is not offend people who they think might be offended, I don’t think this hurts this show. George Carlin is so brilliant, his use of language is vast and compelling that a few bleeps might even be enticing. I don’t think it diminishes how great George is, how important the show is and the function that PBS serves over time. I mean, there’s — civility in manners are defined in different ways. If it were up to me, we’d have all the words you’d want, but I am not a network. Was that a good answer?
Yeah, a very good answer, one worthy of Carlin, who all the comics in tonight’s salute clearly love and revere. Check out the PBS teaser, below:
Carlin, who died last June of heart failure at 71, is the first posthumous Mark Twain award winner. He found out just days before he died that he would be the 11th recipient of the prestigious show business salute. Past recipients have included Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, Billy Crystal and Steve Martin.
The ceremony was held last November, with Belzer, Tomlin, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Joan Rivers, Garry Shandling, Margaret Cho and others saluting Carlin at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“There was something about this prize that meant something to him,” said Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. “He did call me when he found out about it,” she told critics last month in L.A. “I think in the last five years he really started to take in that he was the elder statesman of this genre, of these people. He took that seriously. I think he was really getting that, wow, these people really want to honor him in that way.”
Kelly told critics it was pretty cool to grow up in the ’60s and ’70s as George Carlin’s daughter. Although her dad was part of the culture, “he was a rock-and-roll stand-up,” she said. “He was part of a counter culture. Our life was pretty insane and crazy, but at the same time, it was a lot of fun.”
Belzer told critics there were maybe five comedians (he mentioned Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor) who were in Carlin’s league in terms of influence and longevity. “We only aspire to reach certain peaks of the heights that they scaled,” he said. Asking who the next Carlin might be was like asking “Who is the next Rembrandt? Who is the next Miles Davis? It’s very hard to get that stature,” said Belzer.
Chris Rock might be considered in that league some day, he suggested. “George’s body of work, the permutations he went through, coming on first with the suit and tie and being this kind of straight — not straight, he was never straight laced, but you have this kind of a conventional look and then he progressed and evolved into his other characters and over time he was reflective of the culture. He was a little bit ahead of everyone else in terms of language and what you could talk about.”
The other cool revelation in tonight’s salute is how generous and encouraging Carlin was of other comics. If you have spent five minute inside a comedy club, you’ll know this is not always the case. Comics eat other comics for breakfast.
Yet listen to Garry Shandlings’ story about seeking out Carlin and how the great comic took the time to give him notes. Carlin also reached out to Lewis Black, calling him at home to offer encouragement. Belzer said Carlin was responsible for booking him on The Tonight Show at a time when the edgy New York comic was banned from the NBC showcase. “George was someone who wasn’t threatened by talent or by other people,” said Belzer, who described him as “a rare thing in show business, just an incredibly unselfish guy who, you know, we miss greatly. But also, not just for his work, but on a very heavy personal level too.”
That affection comes out on the 90-minute special, which starts at 9 p.m. tonight on WNED and other PBS affiliates.